Following up on its pledge to step up its release schedule, Mozilla has unleashed the first beta of Firefox 5. The release follows hot on the heels of the debut of Firefox 4 and contains relatively few new features: the two most important are support for a CSS animation standard (which has yet to be approved by the W3C but is already implemented in Google Chrome and Apple Safari) and the implementation of a “channel switcher” that lets users who want to live on the bleeding edge of Firefox flip between “Aurora” (pre-beta, but QA’d), Beta, and Release versions of Firefox.
Firefox 5 doesn’t include any major revisions to the application’s user interface, which got a semi-substantial makeover in Firefox 4, and in many cases users are still trying to adjust to the changes. However, in addition to the two many new features above, Firefox 5 also rolls in a number of less-visible changes and bug fixes, detailed in the beta release notes.
Mozilla anticipates moving Firefox 5 into release channel towards the end of June. Firefox 6 is scheduled for early August, and the end of the year might even see the release of Firefox 9.
The strategy is intended to help Firefox keep up with the likes of Google Chrome and Opera: where Chrome and Opera have typically released major version updates every couple months, Firefox has been set on a schedule of more-monolithic releases, with major revisions coming only after long intervals. Although Mozilla has been aggressive about getting bug fixes and security updates out to users, the more-aggressive release schedule should enable Firefox to get new features to users sooner. Even Internet Explorer has taken on a more aggressive release schedule, announcing a developer preview of Internet Explorer 10 shortly after IE 9 hit the streets—the move leaves Apple’s Safari as the only major browser looking at a traditional release schedule.